We had the good fortune of connecting with Simitha Singh Rambiritch and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Simitha, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
I learned very early on in life from my father that life is about taking risks. Despite living in apartheid South Africa, my dad, a person of color, gave up a stable monthly income to pursue his own business and his hard work paid off. I guess my entrepreneurial spirit comes from him and his determination.
Like him, while working in a stable government job in healthcare, I opened a women’s accessory business in a new busy mall in South Africa, but very quickly learned that overheads, like high rent and wages can crush your profits quickly. My retail business had a partnership with POWA (People Opposing Women Abuse) organization, where we supplied materials to the women at their shelters in Johannesburg to create affordable jewelry pieces for my store for the everyday woman and some of the proceeds were donated back to the shelters, in the hope that despite hardship and suffering they would feel empowered to create something beautiful and feel beautiful. Eventually I had to sell the business to focus on my career in dentistry and research.
Fast forward 4 years later, my husband got into business school for graduate studies at UC Berkeley. I never planned on leaving my home and family in South Africa, but we were up for adventure and decided to pack up and move to California with our 3 dogs. We sold our house, and I knew I would not be able to work as a dentist in the US, or work at all for that matter, while on a spousal dependent visa. But this gave me the opportunity to explore new options and learn about my new environment and meet new people. I was lucky to have connected with so many other spouses from around the world through the university community.
I also used the time to volunteer at various start-ups, worked in the university housing community and learned new skills in product and business strategy. These first years in America were stressful but also very enjoyable! I finally had the time to focus on what I want to do with my life, and not to mention I had plenty of time to watch Netflix, which we never had in South Africa when we left back in 2014.
I was also amazed to learn how you could order anything online and get it delivered to your door. I never knew you could order a TV and never leave the comfort of your couch. Not being able to work in the first few years of living in America, suited my pups very well because we spent most days together. I never felt alone as long as they were with me.
After getting our green card, I chose roles that were focused on growing communities within the healthcare industry, and still working for small start-ups. I came to realize that CEOs and founders who start a business, follow their passion and their drive to succeed stem from the desire to build things, build communities and hopefully either generate revenue for profit or for social good. But, what if we could do both?
If the COVID pandemic taught me anything, it was about following your passion. My dogs and a good cup of coffee got me through the lonely days, of being far away from family, the tough of days, of worrying about green cards, getting jobs, rent money and family far away going through illnesses and aging or missing special occasions, but also the coffee and dogs got me through the best of days. And so it was an easy decision to start a company focused on growing communities through good coffee and helping dogs in need. Keeping the business an online coffee shop was an easy one to make! I was also determined to work with other women in business in the Bay Area. I quickly developed a strong network of female entrepreneurs, female coffee roasters and female run dog shelters and these were matches made in heaven…and the rest as we say is history.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I always knew that I wanted to be in a career that was helping and connecting with people, and in South Africa, the most obvious choice was either in the medical profession or teaching. Funny enough, I actually combined both. I qualified as a dentist and after receiving my Masters in Science, I spent 8 years lecturing dental and oral hygiene students at the University of Witwatersrand. But my heart yearned to own my own business too! I opened my own practice in 2007, but sold it to pursue my career in research and after opening a retail accessory business in 2010, and not being able to cope with high overheads, the most obvious decision was to sell after 2 years.
When my husband got into UC Berkeley, Haas School of Business in 2014, my world turned upside down but in a good way. While moving to the US and living in one of the most expensive parts of California, all while being a full time student and a dependent not eligible to work, was one of the hardest things we ever had to do, but we made it work, including bringing our 3 dogs from Johannesburg, because they are family and we were doing this move and embracing this new life as a family unit, even if many members of our family back home in South Africa thought we were crazy!
We developed a strong network of friends who became our family and till today, support us and are there for us every step of the way! I guess that’s the beauty of being an immigrant, and making it work in a foreign land for a greater purpose! Not being able to work in the USA for the first 3 years until we got our green card was tough. I remember using credit cards (USA, the land of the ‘credit card, you got it’) at one stage to pay our rent, buying peanut butter and bread from Dollar Tree, lying to my parents that I was working and earning, so that they wouldn’t worry, but instead I was volunteering for various start-ups in Silicon Valley. We were fortunate to become green card holders in 2017 and my career followed in a path of various health tech start-ups where my role was focused on product development, business strategy and growing networks.
The idea of Koffie Inja was created out of my love for coffee and dogs come start-up with a desire to do good! Taking all my learnings from working under CEOs in small start-ups, I realized taking a risk is worth it, if you can learn from your mistakes, pivot fast and don’t be afraid to fail. I didn’t have the luxury of too much start-up capital or an angel investor like most start-ups in Silicon Valley have, but what my learned from my past experiences was:
- Online businesses reduce the cost of major overheads like rent and employees
- Shipping good products work in a place where the postal and delivery service is efficient
- Create value and products that delight your customers
- Cross collaborate with key partners and stakeholders
- Give back and do good where you can
‘Koffie’ is the Afrikaans word for Coffee and ‘Inja’ is the Zulu word for Dog. Both are official languages in South Africa, where I was born and raised. Even on some of my toughest days, I knew that I could always rely on a good cup of coffee and my faithful pups to lift my spirit, energy and make me smile. No matter how good or bad your day is going, or how big or small your home is, your dog is always there by your side, loving you unconditionally, and that is a beautiful thing. But I also associated a good cup of coffee with meeting friends, in fact I met some of my best friends here in the US at a Haas Partners Club event called ‘Coffee Chat’, which was held every Friday at 11am in Berkeley at a popular coffee shop near campus. This is where the spouses from many different countries and backgrounds came together to talk about what we left behind and how we were moving forward in a new environment, all over a cup of coffee. It was there I met Catarina from South Korea, Maria from Spain, Ginevra from Italy and today they are my voice of reason, my shoulder to cry on, my white board when I am starting a new business and my family! We all left successful careers behind in our old worlds but were trying to find our place in a new country, and doing it, one cup of coffee at a time. Ginervra taught me about Italian moka pots for espressos, Catarina taught me about pour-over coffee and Maria taught me about gooseneck-style kettle designs.
While working in San Francisco in 2018, I became familiar with Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, after learning about their founder’s story, Sherri Franklin, who started Muttville in her own home in 2007 with a mission to save older dogs who are often then first abandoned and euthanized in shelters. I knew I wanted to get involved with Muttville somehow. In 2016, Sherri was named the CNN Hero of the year and Muttville and the need to help senior dogs grew. I became a Muttville guardian in 2018 and as a dog mom of 3 senior dogs myself, I know how special seniors are!
So when starting my business, I knew that my mission would be to create good coffee, sell it online, and help senior pups in need. I connected with my close friend Remona first, also a South African living in the Bay Area, who spent many years focused on business strategy, and ran the idea by her, concerned it was a bit niche, but her simple ‘go for it’ attitude motivated me to get the ball rolling. And in a very short space of time, with some design and website help from friends, and contract reviews with a lawyer in the family, we launched Koffie Inja in September 2021 within 3 months of coming up with the idea!
The Koffie Inja brand is all about drinking coffee with purpose! ‘Drink coffee with Purpose’ means that for every cup you drink, you help a senior pup in need. We donate 20% of the profits from every bag of coffee sold to Muttville Senior Dog Rescue and we hope that in the near future we can work with more senior dog shelters. All while supporting other women in business and in particular small local businesses. What I learned since moving here, is that the Amazons of the world are here to stay forever, but small businesses and growing something from scratch is what the American dream was built on. We are a few months old, selling coffee, growing our community and are very excited for the future and where it might take us.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Since I live in the Bay Area, I would take them to my favorite sites in the Bay!
Firstly, a great cup of coffee and the most divine croissants from Maison Alyzee in Mountain View. The owner is French and everything on the menu, down to the breads, jams and pastries are to die for.
Next, I would take my friend to spend a day in Sausalito, where the ice-cream from Lappert’s is heaven and the views and small town shops are charming.
If we are feeling for a heavenly late lunch with a view, I would have to say Sam’s Chowder House in Half Moon Bay. The lobster roll and the shrimp pesto pasta are sublime and Miramar beach is dog friendly, so you can enjoy a good meal with your pup!
I guess the evening for me will have to be either at home with the pups watching a good Netflix series, like Grace and Frankie and enjoying an evening cup of coffee.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My shoutout is to my dad, Dewakpersad (Ranjen) Singh. A family man, a businessman and a warrior! He taught me to be organized, work hard, laugh hard, love hard and to move forward even in the face of adversity and I am so grateful to be his daughter.
I also have to send a shout out to my wonderful husband, Euvir, who always encourages me to take risks and follow my heart, and to my 3 babies, Prada, Beckham and Audrey, you are my greatest inspiration.